The Hukbalahap Rebellion was a rebellion staged by former Hukbalahap or Hukbo ng Bayan Laban sa Hapon (Anti-Japanese Army) soldiers against the Philippine government. It started during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines in 1942 and continued during the presidency of Manuel Roxas, and ended in 1954 under the presidency of Ramon Magsaysay.
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During the Japanese occupation of the Philippines, the Hukbalahap created a strong resistance army against the Japanese forces in Central Luzon. The Huk Resistance, as it became popularly known, created a stronghold against the Japanese in the villages through guerrilla warfare. During this time, the area was heavily protected by Huks, and Huk justice reigned.
The aftermath of the liberation from Japan was characterized by chaos. The Philippine Government, following orders from the United States of America, disarmed and arrested the Huks for allegedly being communists. Harassment and abuses against peasant activists became common. Largely consisting of peasant farmers, the Huks feared for their lives as United States Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) and the Philippine Constabulary (civilian police) hunted them down. Civilian casualties were huge. The Huks decided to go back to the mountains and their guerrilla lifestyle as a response to supposed maltreatment by the government. They staged a rebellion against the Philippine Government when it became clear that the repression would not stop unless all former Huk soldiers and supporters were rounded up.
Effects of American Capitalism
The late 1800s and early 1900s saw the arrival of Americans and the opening up of the Philippine market to the US economy due to American victory in both the Spanish–American War in 1898 and the Philippine–American War in 1902. The arrival of the Americans was characterized by the amplification of capitalism that was instituted by the Spaniards in the encomienda system; there was an exponential increase in the amount of free trade between the Philippines and the United States of America. Landowners favored cash crops for export to the USA, such as tobacco and sugar cane, over the usual rice or cereals, resulting in lesser supply of staple foods for the peasant farmers.
Patterns of farm management were also changing. Traditional landowners wanted to modernize their farms and employ tenant-farmers as wage-earners with legal contracts in order to maximize their profit. The following excerpts of Benedict Kerkvliet's interview with Manolo Tinio, one of the landowners during that time in San Ricardo, Talavera, Nueva Ecija (a town in Central Luzon where most of the Huks resided) perfectly captured the general attitude of landowners during that time:
- On the padrino relationship
"In the old days … the landlord-tenant relationship was a real paternalistic one. The landlord thought of himself as a grandfather to all tenants, and so he was concerned with all aspects of their lives. … But the system had to be changed over time as the hacienda has to be put in a sound economic footing.. The landlord tenant relationship is a business partnership, it is not a family. The landlord has invested capital in the land, and the tenants give their labor."
- On loans
"If the tenants need to borrow rice or money, they could go somewhere else to get it. I decided to lend to only a few tenants, if they pay interest. But to give ration loans and charge no interest, and sometimes not be repaid is certainly an un-businesslike way to handle money."
- On contracts
"Contracts help to prevent tenants from cheating from me. My father never had problems because the tenants were better people then. But tenants became lazy, and they would take rice and other things that do not belong to them. So each year I made them sign contracts. anyone who didn't want to could go someplace else. And those who didn't abide by the contracts can go someplace else."
- On mechanization of farms
"I was enthused about putting modern machinery to work like the modern farms I'd seen in the US. … The only machine here is the Japanese rice thresher. … Meanwhile I try to make the tenants do as I said so the land will be more productive. If you tell a machine something it will do it. It's not the way with tenants."
No more Padrino
This period saw the collapse of the colonial structures the Spaniards had maintained for more than three centuries. Before, the landowner was very visible. He could be seen attending social functions like weddings and baptisms of his tenants, sponsoring food during fiestas, and inspecting the land. The relationship was very intimate. He helped them in times of distress, especially financial ones, and was seen as a protector from friars and government officials.
Now the landowners were nowhere to be found; the haciendas were left to caretakers. The peasants felt abandoned. The elites had become collaborators of the Americans. If before they looked to the masses to legitimize their place in society, now they looked to Manila. As a result, peasants started looking for other landowners, only to find that the situation elsewhere was no better and that some peasants had it worse. Hence, there was a growing unrest among the peasantry, which was characterized by small protests against their own landlords.
With peasants out of work and cash crops being preferred over staple food, peasants started begging for food and stealing from the rice warehouses of the government. There was despair during this troubled decade.
Furthermore, the early 1930s saw the formation of many small peasant unions. Some of these are:
- Samahang Magsasaka
- Kabisang Tales
- Anak Pawis
- Aguman ding Malding Talapagobra (AMT; General Workers' Union)
- Kalipunang Pambansa ng mga Magsasaka ng Pilipinas (KPMP; National Council of Peasants in the Philippines)
Peasants saw that the situation elsewhere was similar to that in their environs in Central Luzon. They decided to protest together in order to have a bigger voice and have mutual protection from landlords and the government. The goal remained the same: to revert to the traditional tenancy system. The means of protest, however, have evolved. There were strikes, petitions to government officials, including the president, court cases against landlords, and even running for, and winning, local office.
In 1939, the two largest peasant organizations merged: The AMT with 70,000 men and the KPMP with 60,000 men. They participated in the 1940s election by joining with the Partido Sosyalista ng Pilipinas (PSP), a rural peasant political party, and ran with a complete slate of candidates under the Popular Front ticket in Pampanga. Although Pedro Abad Santos, the founder of the PSP, did not win any elections, his party became synonymous with the peasant movements and eventually with the Huks. His right-hand man was Luis Taruc, the future supreme commander of the Huks.
In December 1941 the Japanese Army arrived in the Philippines. The country did not have sufficient military capacity to protect its citizens from the advancing army of the Axis Forces and needed the help of the USA, under the USAFFE, in defending the country. Still, the peasants of Central Luzon saw the need to engage combat against the Japanese for their own survival. The organized peasant movements of the 1930s in Central Luzon have set the conditions for organized resistance against the Japanese.
In March 29, 1942, 300 of these peasant leaders decided to form the HUKBALAHAP or the Hukbo ng Bayan Laban sa Hapon. This event marks the moment when the peasant movement became a guerrilla army.
The Hukbalahap expanded what the peasant movement had become until 1941. From dealing with what they perceived as tenant-landlord issues, the peasants now had to protect themselves against the military government the Japanese installed in the Philippines. The Huks fought against the invading Japanese forces. The Huks organized an anti-Japanese resistance movement, collected arms from civilians, gathered guns from retreating USAFFE forces and stop what they perceive as banditry.
The numbers of Huk soldiers increased. By September 1942, there were 3,000 men and by 1946 the Huks numbered about 10,000. During the time of the Japanese occupation, the organization became an underground political government with a full-functioning military committee composing of 67 squadrons in 1944. The Huk army was composed of squadrons, and squadrons were composed of squads. In the town of Talavera, Nueva Ecija alone, there were 3 squadrons, with about 200 men each.
Its top commanders were Castro Alejandrino (AMT, PSP), Felipa Culala (KPMP), Bernardo Poblete (AMT), and Luis Taruc (AMT, PSP), with Taruc being the supreme military commander. The Communists claimed that the Hukbalahap was Communist-led and initiated. However, prior to the war, none of the top leaders had had any connections with the PKP. and interviews conducted by Kerkvliet with members afterwards also points to a non-bias towards any ideology.
The Huks were well received by the villagers and were seen as their protector from the abuses of the Japanese. There were many motivations for people to join: nationalism, empathy, survival, and revenge. Those who could not join the guerrilla army joined the underground government via its "secretly converted neighborhood associations", called Barrio United Defense Corp (BUDC).
The HUKBALAHAP also tried to recruit beyond Central Luzon but were not as successful. Nonetheless, the Huks fought side by side with local troops of the Philippine Commonwealth Army, Philippine Constabulary units, USAFFE soldiers, helping the US win the Japanese war in the Philippines.
Against the Philippine Republic
Life for the Huks did not return to pre-war conditions even after World War II. Most of the landowners were collaborators during the Japanese occupation and were no longer interested in tenant-farming. Furthermore, most of them had already moved to Manila during the war.
Not only was life economically unsustainable for the Huks, their hardships were aggravated by the hostility and repression they experienced from the USAFFE soldiers, Philippine Constabulary, and landlords. Former Huks were hunted down and arrested under orders of disarmament from the United States. Even the villagers were victimized: their properties were looted, food stolen and houses even burned in search of Huks who were possibly hiding in them.
The Massacre of Squadron 77 was seen as a major act of hostility against the Huks which occurred in Malolos, Bulacan in February 1945. Consisting of 109 Huks, Squadron 77 was surrounded by American and Filipino soldiers, shot, and buried in a mass grave.
Furthermore, in February 1945, the U.S. Counter Intelligence Corp (USCIC) decided that the only way to end in what they saw as "Huk domination of the area" was to arrest the prominent leaders of the Hukbalahap. There were almost 20 prominent leaders arrested, including the top two commanders of the Huks: Castro Alejandrino and Luis Taruc.
In September 1945, Luis Taruc and other Huk leaders were freed from prison. Luis Taruc formally announced the end of the resistance movement. He gave the roster of Hukbalahap names to the US and Philippine government, hoping for recognition from President Sergio Osmeña for their participation during the Japanese war to qualify for war veteran's benefits. Four squadrons, consisting of about 2,000 men, were not recognized. The Huks saw it as a divide-and-conquer tactic and decided not to accept anything from the government.
Luis Taruc protested to MacArthur to stop the maltreatment of the Huks. Although at the top levels leaders were constantly negotiating with each other, the situation on the ground between the Huks and the US and Philippine forces was ripe for a full-scale rebellion. In the words of the Hukbalahap's supreme commander, Luis Taruc, the truce is "in effect only at the top level, between the government representatives and peasant leaders. On the level of the fields there was open conflict".
Moreover, the harvest between the period of late 1945 to early 1946 not only exacerbated the plight of the Huks, it also further intensified the gap between the tenants and the landlords. There were "landowner-tenant disputes over high interest rates, loans, rent payments, and sharing agricultural expenses sometimes led to evictions." The landed elites, who collaborated with the Japanese during the war, now pledged their allegiance to America. Together with the government, they agreed to a 60% share of harvests for the tenants, from the usual 50–50. But when harvest came, the promises were not kept.
So the Huks decided to join politics again. The Pambansang Kaisahan ng Magbubukid (PKM) or National Peasants Union was formed. At the national level, the PKM lobbied for the 60–40 division of harvest. The PKM lobbied for better relations between peasants and landlords, low interest loans from landowner, for the setting up of banks by the government, enactment of laws to protect peasants from landowners and small landowners from big landowners, and "justice for everyone regardless of social standing.
But despite their meager aims, harassment and abuses continued. Local police, military police, and even "civilian guards" intimidated, arrested, and even killed Huk veterans and PKM supporters.
It is in this situation that the Huks formally allied with the PKP, which later became the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). The CPP had created the Committee of Labor Organizations (CLO) to spearhead its political offensive on the labor front. It was composed of 76 trade unions from all over Manila and had a membership of 100,000 laborers. On the other hand, peasant support for the PKM was significant in the countryside.
In July 15, 1945, the Democratic Alliance (DA) was formed with the merger of the PKM and the CLO. Despite the CLO's apparent ideological bias towards Communism, the PKM partnered with them for better chances of winning the national elections, with the aim of finally representing the tenant farmers through legal political means at the national level. The DA supported the candidacy of the incumbent president, Sergio Osmena of the Nacionalista Party, in order to ensure the defeat of Liberal Party's Manuel Roxas.
The May 1946 elections won Manuel Roxas the presidency. The six DA candidates won their seats in the Congress. But the six DA Congressmen, together with 1 NP Congressmen and 3 NP Senators, were not allowed to take their seats in the House of Representatives with a resolution introduced by Rep. Jose Topacio Nueno and upheld by a majority of the congress on grounds of election fraud and terrorism.
- Disqualified DA Congressmen
- Luis Taruc, 2nd district of Pampanga
- Amado Yuzon, 1st district Pampanga
- Jesus Lava, Bulacan
- Josa Cando, Nueva Ecija
- Constancio Padilla, Nueva Ecija
- Alejandro Simpauco, Tarlac
On July 4, 1946, the US Government granted sovereignty to the Philippines. The Philippine economy at this point had become very dependent on the US economy. The Philippine Trade Act of 1946 or Bell Trade Act at that time was being debated in both chambers of the Legislature. Had the unseated Congressmen voted, the controversial bill might not have been passed.
On August 24, 1946, Juan Feleo, a prominent peasant leader from Nueva Ecija, was kidnapped together with four of his companions while they were on their way to Manila. Their bodies were found floating in the Pampanga river a few days afterwards. This was the tipping point for the Hukbalahap Rebellion. Feleo had been in charge of the Pacification Program and was negotiating with the Government in behalf of the Huks. Scholars explained that the paranoia caused by his death of Feleo caused the Huk soldiers to rebel and flee back to the mountains.
The Huks staged a rebellion against the Roxas presidency within months after the Philippine independence and days after Feleo's murder. They retreated to the mountains once more in fear for their lives and renamed themselves Hukbong Magpapalaya ng Bayan (HMB) or People's Liberation Army. The government intensified its campaign against the Huks, which caused the rebellion to further escalate.
President Roxas employed what he termed a "Mailed-Fist Policy" to stop the rebellion. It was meant to crush the rebellion in 60 days. The Philippine Constabulary (PC) increased its operations against the Huks. Roxas viewed the Huks as Communists and saw the need for the group's suppression including its peasant arm.
The Communist Party of the Philippines, however, disowned the HMB, claiming that the rebellion must serve beyond the interest of self-defense and believes that a real revolution must be led by the working class and the labor movement, not peasants who it views as unable to even comprehend dialectical materialism.
Roxas over-estimated the capacity of his army. The Huks were trained in guerrilla warfare during the Japanese Occupation while the Philippine government was yet to establish a formidable army. The government eventually sought the military help of the United States. The rebellion lasted for years, with huge civilian casualties.
During this time, the HMB had the same organizational structure as during the Hukbalahap Resistance. It provided both an army against the civilian guards of the elites and the PC, and an underground government which was well known for "Huk justice". Villagers supported the Huk squadrons again as well. It continued to grow in strength and in the numbers of its soldiers and supporters, reaching its zenith in 1950, when it had 12,800 soldiers and a mass base of 54,000.
Roxas died of a heart attack a few weeks after declaring his Mailed Fist Policy. His successor, President Elpidio Quirino, had a more accommodating stand towards the Huks, but his failure to deliver fundamental land reforms and appease the Huks who had been victimized by the PC further intensified Huk demands.
On June 21, 1948, President Quirino granted the Huks amnesty. A few days later, both the Senate and the Congress approved the amnesty provided that the Huks "present themselves with their arms and ammunition". But no matter how well the negotiations went in Manila, the continued fighting in the countryside affected them. Many Huks surrendered their arms unwillingly: as they understood it, the amnesty required only that they be registered. Many Huks were forced to surrender and were often threatened and beaten up. Once the word spread of continued abuses, people no longer came to register their arms. On August 14, 1948, negotiations fell apart.
In 1949, as an attack against the government, Hukbalahap members allegedly ambushed and murdered Aurora Quezon, Chairwoman of the Philippine Red Cross and widow of the Philippines' second president, Manuel L. Quezon, as she was en route to her hometown for the dedication of the Quezon Memorial Hospital. Several others were also killed, including her eldest daughter and son-in-law. This attack brought worldwide condemnation of the Huks, who claimed that the attack was done by "renegade" members, and justified further attacks by the Philippine Government.
Alleged Soviet involvement
It was reported the submarines from the Soviet Union were providing guns, ammunition and supplies to the Huks.
Luis Taruc and his men immediately went back into hiding in the Sierra Madre mountains when negotiations fell apart on August 14, 1948. However, the start of the 1950s saw the beginning of the rebellion's decline. The decline is attributed to two main reasons:
- There was general weariness among the people from years of fighting. Many prominent Huk leaders either had died or were too old to fight. Those that remained they were few, and were now pursued by the army even in the mountains. To make things worse for the Huks, the villagers became weary of supporting them, or just saw them as irrelevant.
- President Quirino transferred the Anti-Huk Campaigns from the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) to the Department of National Defense (DND). Under Ramon Magsaysay's leadership, the army was purged of corrupt and inefficient officials. Major military offensives were launched and the army became innovative in pursuing the Huks in the mountains. By 1951, army strength had increased by 60 percent over the previous year with 1,047-man BCTs. Furthermore, the PCs stopped their abuses of the peasants, which further caused peasants to no longer see the need for "Huk justice".
The Huk Rebellion was finally put down through a series of reforms and military victories by Magsaysay, who became the seventh President. In May 1954, Luis Taruc surrendered and accepted a 15-year imprisonment.
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